It is our aim and motivation to ensure that fundamental insights into the brain and nervous system are translated into medical practice. Many of the processes occurring in the brain and neural networks remain unknown. However, scientists are beginning to understand the nature of underlying mechanisms at the molecular level. At Charité, basic and clinical researchers work together to develop new methods of diagnosis and treatment for use in patients with neurological and psychiatric disorders.
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Neuroscience at Charité
Charité’s research into, and treatment of, neurological and psychiatric disorders makes it one of the leading university hospitals in Germany. Its transdisciplinary and translational approach sees basic researchers work closely with clinical researchers and physicians from various disciplines. The aim is to develop a better understanding of, and new treatments for, a range of different disorders, which include psychological disorders such as schizophrenia and depression, neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, neuroimmunological disorders such as multiple sclerosis and meningitis, and acute diseases or events such as stroke. Other areas of research include developmental disorders such as autism and Down's syndrome.
Berlin's neuroscience research environment is not dissimilar in complexity to that of the human neural network. The Departments of Neurology and Experimental Neurology, Psychiatry (at CCM and CBF), Neurosurgery, Neuropathologie, Pediatric Neurology, and Neuroradiology represent the backbone of all clinical research endeavors. These departments work closely with basic research-oriented institutes, such as the Institutes of Neurophysiology, Biochemistry, Biophysics, and Neuroanatomy, whose researchers focus on identifying and understanding basic mechanisms and their complex interactions within the nervous system. As a central research facility and knowledge exchange center, the CharitéCrossOver (CCO) building lies at the heart of these endeavors. Built in 2012, the CCO offers more than 13,600 square meters of space (approximately 146,000 square feet) for research and teaching.
The Neuroscience Research Center (NWFZ) was established in 1999 as a platform for early career researchers aiming to advance their careers through independent neuroscience research projects. Participating groups of early career researchers received research and laboratory space, as well as their own research budgets, for a duration of three to six years. Annual mentoring meetings with experienced neuroscientists provided the opportunity to discuss progress made by the various groups' leaders. Today, members of the NWFZ are responsible for developing research focus areas within the field of neuroscience. By either initiating or joining collaborative endeavors, members of the center are creating long-term structures within the Berlin research environment. This is particularly evidenced by the NWFZ's close links with the Cluster of Excellence NeuroCure.
Title photo: Dr. Jan Schmoranzer, Core Facility AMBIO.
NeuroCure – towards a better outcome of neurological disorders
One of the most successful ventures within the field of neuroscience at Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin is the Cluster of Excellence NeuroCure, a research consortium established as part of the German Excellence Initiative, and funded by the federal and state governments. NeuroCure's main aim is the transfer of knowledge from basic neuroscience to clinical application, and from clinical application back to the laboratory. Its overall research focus centers around the study of neurological disorders, such as stroke, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and disorders affecting brain development. NeuroCure researchers are also committed to mental health research, studying conditions from autism and depression to schizophrenia. More than 50 working groups are involved in seven research areas aimed at gaining a better understanding of how the nervous system works. Following the overall translational approach, research areas are jointly coordinated by a basic science researcher and a clinical scientist.
NeuroCure Clinical Research Center (NCRC)
The NCRC was established to ensure that research findings can be translated into clinical practice as quickly as possible. The NeuroCure Clinical Research Center is a fully-equipped outpatient facility which has been certified to international standards. The NCRC provides support during both the planning and conduct of clinical trials. Its services, which are available to all researchers of the Cluster of Excellence NeuroCure, ensure that patients have access to clinical trials investigating new treatments and diagnostic methods. The NCRC hosts both NeuroCure investigator-initiated and industry-initiated clinical trials.
Image: NeuroCure Clinical Research Center. Improving treatment options for patients with nervous system disorders. Photo: Jürgen Lösel.
Time is Brain: stroke research in Berlin
In 2005, Charité and the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) joined forces to establish the Center for Stroke Research Berlin (CSB). The CSB, which serves as an integrated research and treatment center, has received federal funding from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research since 2008. The aim of the CSB's work is to reduce both stroke incidence and mortality. Every year, approximately 270,000 people in Germany have a stroke, approximately one third of whom will die within a year. The CSB has set out to create new research structures, which promote disease-oriented and patient-oriented research into stroke, and ensure that high standards are maintained. The center's research is interdisciplinary in nature and guided by its motto: 'protect brain – prevent complications – restore function'. Areas involved include telemedicine, imaging, and brain-immune system interactions, as well as stroke and depression, and the epidemiology of stroke.
The CSB's MRI scanner, which is situated on Campus Benjamin Franklin, plays a central role. Its proximity to the Stroke Unit (the scanner is situated immediately adjacent to the specialist Stroke Unit on Level 4) facilitates and accelerates diagnosis as well as any subsequent treatment. In addition to collecting important data for clinical studies, this device also allows clinicians to measure cerebral perfusion in patients with stroke symptoms. A specialist stroke ambulance (known as a STEMO) ensures that imaging technology can also be used on scene. The STEMO, an emergency response vehicle fitted with a CT scanner and a miniature laboratory, and manned by a neurologist, effectively allows part of the hospital to be brought to the patient. The STEMO concept is supported by research, which has shown that patients treated inside the STEMO received potentially life-saving thrombolysis 25 minutes earlier on average.
The CSB has also been successful in creating a network of more than 40 stroke care providers offering acute care, stroke rehabilitation, and follow-up care within Berlin and its surrounding areas. The endeavors pursued by this 'Berlin Stroke Alliance (BSA)' include the development of new concepts for use in the long-term management of stroke, and a comprehensive training program aimed at physicians, therapists and nursing staff, as well as stroke survivors and their families. The BSA has been registered as a non-profit organization since early 2015.
CSB Trial Team
The Trial Team forms a crucial part of the CSB, and works to optimize conditions for clinical trials. The aim of the team is to coordinate clinical research, professionalize investigator-led clinical trials, support researchers, and exploit synergies. Effective quality management allows the Trial Team to ensure patient-oriented research is delivered at a consistently high quality. The CSB’s trial management unit is one of the first academic site management organizations (SMO) in Germany to have been certified to international standards.
Image: Clinical trials – generating new knowledge for the benefit of patients. Photo: CSB.
Einstein Center for Neurosciences Berlin
Founded in 2016, the Einstein Center for Neurosciences (ECN) brings together scientists and researchers who share the common aim of working towards closer collaboration within the various fields of neuroscience. The Center promotes and strengthens collaborations by further developing existing ties between different neuroscience disciplines (such as genetics, molecular biology, physiology, neurology, psychiatry, and psychology) and, more recently, philosophy and computer science. It also promotes the attractiveness of Berlin's research environment at an international level. Based at the Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, the ECN works closely with its university partners Freie Universität Berlin, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and Technische Universität Berlin, as well as its non-university partners the Max Delbrück Center (MDC), the Leibniz-Forschungsinstitut für Molekulare Pharmakologie (FMP), and the Max Planck Institute for Human Development (MPIB).
Further collaborations and initiatives
- SFB Transregio 265: Losing and regaining control over drug intake: From trajectories to mechanisms to interventions
- SFB 740: From Molecules to Modules: Organisation and Dynamics of Functional Units in Cells
- SFB 665: Developmental Disturbances in the Nervous System
- TRR 84: Innate Immunity of the Lung: Mechanisms of Pathogen Attack and Host Defence in Pneumonia
- FOR 1617: Learning and Habitisation as Predictors of the Development and Maintenance of Alcoholism
- KFO 247: Deep Brain Stimulation: Mechanisms, Physiology and Therapy Optimization
- Other collaborations
The International Graduate Progam 'Medical Neurosciences'
Within the Cluster of Excellence NeuroCure, education and training is delivered primarily through the International Graduate Program 'Medical Neurosciences'. The program, which has a distinct focus on translational research, covers the full spectrum of neuroscience disciplines, ranging from molecular and cellular neurobiology to systems neuroscience and cognition. In addition to offering students the opportunity to work on their own projects, the program features a comprehensive range of workshops, seminars, and conferences, all of which focus on:
- Links between basic and clinically-oriented research
- Access to laboratory facilities within the participating organizations
- Gaining practical experience and working independently
In addition to studying for a Master's degree, students enrolled in this graduate program also have the option of studying for a PhD or MD/PhD. NeuroCure offers studentships/scholarships, which are aimed at supporting early-career researchers.
Einstein Training Program
Since 2017, the Einstein Training Program of the Einstein Center for Neurosciences Berlin (ECN) regards the support of early-career researchers as one of its key responsibilities, and aims to provide the highest-quality doctoral training. To achieve this aim, the ECN pursues a closer integration of the highly successful neuroscience-based graduate programs provided by the Berlin School of Mind and Brain, the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience Berlin, and the International Graduate Program Medical Neurosciences. The Einstein Training Program complements their neuroscientific curricula with a bootcamp, laboratory rotations, programming courses and the PhD Lab for Open Innovation in Science. On top, the ECN offers workshops and supervision committees (a.k.a. thesis advisory boards) to guide students through their PhD projects.
The Einstein Training Program provides a new generation of outstanding researchers with expertise in the neurosciences and the ability to engage in interdisciplinary and translational thinking. International doctoral students may apply for PhD fellowships once a year in December for a program start in October of the following year. They will be subject to a structured multistage selection process.